Thursday, December 31, 2020

Top Ten Posts of 2020

As the year draws to a close, the Classic Film & TV Cafe traditionally ends it with a countdown of our ten most viewed posts. We published a total of 78 in 2020. Naturally, the countdown is a little skewed, since those posts that came out at the start of the year will have more views. But that won't stop us...we love year-end lists!

We included only posts that were originally published during 2020. We also omitted our monthly quizzes. To build a little suspense, we'll begin at No. 10 and work our way to No. 1.

But before we get started, we want to thank each of you who visited this blog this year and send some extra love to those who took the time to leave comments.

10. Seven Things to Know About Robert Lansing.

9.  Seven Things to Know About Karen Valentine.

8.  Walt Disney's The Swamp Fox

7.  Scott Eyman Discusses His New Biography Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise.

6.  Classic Movies and Television on Peacock TV.

5.  Author-Movie Blogger John Greco Discusses His New Book The Late Show.

4.  Seven Things to Know About Eva Gabor.

3.  Seven Things to Know About Angie Dickinson.

2.  6 from the '60s Blogathon for National Classic Movie Day.

1.  Roald Dahl's The Witches.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Even Elsa's Cute Cubs Can't Redeem an Unnecessary Sequel

Elsa and Joy (Susan Hampshire)
Although Joy Adamson's book Born Free topped the bestseller charts in 1960, no one anticipated that the 1966 film adaptation would become a huge hit. With a British cast mostly unfamiliar to American audiences, the movie captured the hearts of moviegoers worldwide with its true-life tale of how Adamson and her husband raised a female lion cub and set her free. Adamson followed her book with several sequels about Elsa the Lioness and her cubs--so it was inevitable that a follow-up film would be made, too.

Released in 1972, Living Free opens with a lengthy recap of what happened in the first film (and even incorporates snippets of John Barry's Oscar-winning score). Born Free ended with the Adamsons successfully releasing the domesticated Elsa into the wilds of Africa. A year later, when they returned to the spot where they last saw Elsa, she introduced them to her three cubs.

Two of Elsa's cubs.
That happy ending, though, gives way to sadness in Living Free when Elsa dies unexpectedly due to an illness. Her hungry orphaned cubs--Jespah, Gop, and Little Elsa--start killing livestock belonging to the local tribes. George finds an animal preserve willing to take the cubs, but first he and Joy have to capture them. Their efforts to do that comprise the strongest scenes in Living Free.

As a sequel to Born Free, Living Free leaves a lot to be desired. Elsa's frisky cubs are adorable, but one never gets to know them. In the first film, we see Elsa grow up, bond with the Adamsons, and struggle to adapt to the wild. She was a full-fledged character whereas Jespah, Gop, and Little Elsa are just cute animals.

I can only think of one reason for the lengthy recap of Born Free at the beginning of Living Free: Without it, the 90-minute running time would not have been sufficient for a feature film. It adds nothing to the narrative and I think it's safe to assume that the majority of people who went to see Living Free knew the story of Elsa.

Composer John Barry won Oscars for his score for Born Free and for the title song with lyrics by Don Black. Apparently, he was too expensive or unavailable for the sequel. As a result, viewers have to listen to the cringe-worthy Living Free title song performed by Julie Budd. I had never hear of her, but she is still performing live shows as of 2018; here's a link to her web site.

Susan Hampshire as Joy Adamson.
The two human stars of Living Free, Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport, do what they can with their underwritten parts. I became a Susan Hampshire admirer fan after watching her fierce performances in the miniseries The Pallisers and The First Churchills. Alas, she seems miscast as Joy Adamson, whose steely determination to do right by Elsa dominated the original film.

Incidentally, the plot to Living Free is not from Adamson's book of the same name, but rather her third book Forever Free. There have been several other films about the Adamsons, to include To Walk With Lions (1999), starring Richard Harris as George. Diana Muldaur and Gary Collins played the Adamsons in a short-lived Born Free TV series in 1974.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Movie-TV Connection Game (December 2020)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tony Curtis.
The rules:  You will be given a pair or trio of films, TV series, or performers and will be required to to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question. Yes, that's means we're looking for something in particular!

1. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tony Curtis.

2. John Cleese and Janet Leigh (the answer is not Jamie Lee Curtis!).

3. Katharine Ross and Elizabeth Montgomery.

4. Yvette Mimieux and Michael Caine (this might be hard).

5. Deborah Kerr and Elsa Lanchester.

6. Ronald Colman and Rod Taylor.

7. The Sound of Music film and the original Lost in Space TV series.

8. Lost in Space TV series and the film Alien.

9. Raymond Burr, Nick Adams, and Russ Tamblyn.

10. The Fog (1980) and The Day of the Triffids (1962).

11. The TV series Wagon Train and the movie The Green Slime.

12. Rex Harrison and Lou Costello.

13. Judy Garland and Sean Connery (another potential tough one!).

14. The TV daytime drama All My Children and Citizen Kane.

15. The classic film noir Laura and the TV series S.W.A.T.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Seven Things to Know About George Peppard

Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
1. George Peppard didn't get along with either of his female co-stars on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). According to Breakfast at Tiffany's: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion, he and Patricia Neal were friends when they attended the Actors Studio in the 1950s. However, her opinion of him had changed by the time they made Tiffany's: "Boy, he'd gotten rotten. At the Actors Studio, I'd adored him." As for Audrey Hepburn, she and Peppard seemed unable to overcome their different personalities. He sometimes referred to her as the "Happy Nun" on the set (she had made The Nun's Story two years earlier).

2. George Peppard was married five times. His second wife was actress Elizabeth Ashley, who commented  in a 2015 interview: "I married a movie star 11 years older than me because I was looking for a father. Big mistake! Granted, he was gorgeous. Maybe too gorgeous! And good for breeding. But I believe it was doomed from the start." Peppard and Ashley had met on the set of The Carpetbaggers (1964) and they shared top billing the following year in The Third Day. Their marriage lasted six years and they had a son, Christian (also an actor).

George Peppard as Banacek.
3. After Peppard's film career hit a lull, he starred in Banacek, one of the rotating series that aired as part of the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie in 1972. Thomas Banacek was a very successful free-lance insurance investigator who lived in a plush house on Boston's Beacon Hill and had a chauffeur. In the first season episode "Project Phoenix," Banacek mentioned that he learned "combat judo" in the Marine Corps. Peppard actually served in the Marines from 1946-48 and rose to the rank of corporal.

4. At the 2004 SF Ball X, A-Team regular Dwight Schultz talked about working with George Peppard. On Schultz's first day on the set, Peppard walked up to him and said: "Hello, I’m George Peppard. I’m not a very nice man. I used to be a drunk. I tell everybody that. I’m not a drunk anymore." Schultz also said that both Peppard and Mr. T considered themselves to be the star the show. So, when Peppard started leaving the set at 5:00 pm each day, so did Mr. T. The shooting schedule had to be rearranged so that Schultz and Dirk Benedict could stay late to complete any scenes without the show's "stars."

5. Although known for his film and TV roles, Peppard also performed on stage. He made his Broadway debut in 1956 opposite Shelley Winters and Pat Hingle in Girls of Summer. A young Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the title song, was uncredited in the play's original program.

Peppard and Linda Evans on Banacek.
6. According to TV Guide, George Peppard was the original choice to play Blake Carrington on the TV series Dynasty. He was replaced by John Forsyte due to "creative differences" with the show's producers (interestingly, Linda Evans had been a guest star on Banacek). Peppard did star in another TV series between Banacek and The A-Team. He portrayed a neurosurgeon in Doctors' Hospital, which lasted 16 episodes on NBC in 1975-76. The show co-starred Zohra Lampert and John Larroquette.

7. George Peppard was married five times. In addition to Ashley, his fourth wife Sherry Boucher was an actress. He had three children, one with Ashley and two with his first wife Helen Davies. George Peppard died in 1994 at age 65 from pneumonia. A former smoker for many years, he had been battling lung cancer.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Billy Wilder's The Front Page

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.
Hildy Johnson (Jack Lemmon) has decided to give up his career as the star reporter for the Chicago Examiner after proposing to the love of his life (Susan Sarandon). His publisher, Walter Burns (Walter Matthau), doesn't plan to let Hildy quit without a fight. He needs his best newspaper man to cover the hanging of Earl Williams, who has been convicted of killing a cop. Walter will do pretty much anything to retain Hildy. However, his efforts may prove unnecessary, as Hildy finds it exceedingly difficult to walk away from one last big story.

Made in 1974, The Front Page is the third film version of the 1928 Broadway play written by former journalist Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It was first adapted for the screen in 1931 with Pat O'Brien as Hildy and Adolphe Menjou as Burns. Howard Hawks remade it in 1940 as His Girl Friday with Cary Grant as the editor and Rosalind Russell as his ace reporter. There have also been other versions produced for radio, television, and the screen (e.g., 1988's Switching Channels).

Lemmon as Hildy Johnson.
While it's hard to imagine Billy Wilder doing a remake, it's easy to see why the source material appealed to him: Wilder was a reporter in Berlin in the 1920s. He also thought that previous film versions of Hecht and MacArthur's play were hampered by the censors. In the book Billy Wilder: Interviews, the famous filmmaker noted: "I've yet to meet a newspaper man who said 'Oh, heck' or 'Oh, gosh.'" His screenplay, co-written with frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, is peppered with profanity and restores the final famous line from the stage play.

As he did with his frantic 1961 comedy One, Two, Three, Wilder pushes the pace and stops just shy of overlapping the dialogue. It's not until the closing credits roll that one realizes that most of the action has taken place in the press room at the state penitentiary.

Matthau as Walter Burns.
Lemmon and Matthau are in fine form as the leads, but The Front Page is almost an ensemble piece. Vincent Gardenia shines as a corrupt sheriff clearly out of his depth. Charles Durning, David Wayne, and Herb Edelman sparkle as Hildy's rivals at other newspapers; Wayne is especially entertaining as a fussbudget that brings his own (pink) toilet paper to the prison. Finally, there's Austin Pendleton as Earl, the milquetoast killer who somehow manages to escape during his pre-execution psychological evaluation.

If there's a criticism to be leveled at The Front Page, it's the quality of the female roles. As Hildy's fiancée, Susan Sarandon has little to do but look flustered as Hildy constantly delays their train departure out of Chicago. Carol Burnett has a better part as a prostitute who takes pity on Earl--only to be skewered in the newspapers. The scene in which she faces her "accusers"--the cynical newspaper men in the press room--could have been powerful. However, Burnett isn't up to the task and one has to wonder why such a gifted comedienne was cast in the film's truly serious role.

The Front Page isn't top-drawer Billy Wilder, but it's still a funny, biting view of the world of journalism--and just as relevant today as it was in 1974 and in 1928. Maybe it wasn't called "fake news" back then, but the manipulation of headlines and news stories is nothing new. It's just that most of today's Hildy Johnsons and Walter Burns are on cable television instead of in the newspaper business.